In addition to accepting the Variety Creative Impact in Acting Award and being a subject of the “A Conversation With…” series at this past weekend’s Hamptons International Film Festival, two-time Academy Award-winning actress Hilary Swank was on hand in East Hampton Sunday for the East Coast premiere of her new film The Homesman.
Opposite Tommy Lee Jones, who also directs the period film based on Glendon Swarthout’s novel, Swank stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, who is transporting three mad women across the American frontier to Iowa.
In an interview Sunday with local Hamptons media, Swank spoke of how she joined Jones’s film.
“I read this beautiful script that he co-wrote and I loved it in many ways for many reasons,” Swank said. “And I was really grateful to be able to collaborate with him in telling a story that I believe very strongly in.”
She appreciates films—both as an actress and as an audience member—that share a slice of life and look at life deeper, she said.
“This movie was in a lot of ways a feminist movie. And I think it deals with the objectification and trivialization of women in the mid-1800s, which is obviously—as you know, here in 2014—something we’re still dealing with as women. And it’s something that I want to be able to talk about and be able to share.”
Mary Bee Cuddy is an independent-minded and admirable character.
“She has virtues, morals, manners—a lot of things that we’re lacking in the world today …” Swank said. “She’s probably one of the more selfless and incredible characters I’ve ever played, in the way she goes about life, because she does the right thing just because it’s the right thing, not because she wants applause. … We could just use more of those people.”
The film challenged Swank to learn new skills, and fast.
“I’ve done recreational horseback riding in the past, but I’ve never done horseback riding like this,” she said. “I had to have those challenging stunts of getting on a horse that is erratic. We had to film that in 30 minutes—that and the other four shots that went with it—in 30 minutes because we were losing the light.”
Swank also drove mules, pulled a carriage and steered a plow, all of which bolstered her respect for farmers.
She said an incredible part of being an artist is getting to step into someone else’s shoes and empathize with their plight. “Farmers are astounding … I always had respect for them but I didn’t really understand. And still I only really scratched the surface of what they do. I just did enough to be able to play my character.”
Though it was Swank’s first time at the Hamptons International Film Festival, she is no stranger to the Hamptons. She is best friends with East Hampton’s Mariska Hargitay—and the godmother of Hargitay’s daughter—so she visits when she can. “When I do get to come, I get to stay at a beautiful home, and it’s stunning.”